An old man yelling at the TV feed
posted by Mike Laursen @ 10:40 PM
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Looks like Bach Talk isn't taking off, so I'm re-publishing the post here for archiving purposes:The history of science gives many examples of an elegant theory bumping up against a real world anomaly it couldn’t adequately explain. For example, the unexpected results of the Michelson-Morley experiment highlighted flaws in the seemingly perfect logic of Newtonian physics.Just like the scientific establishment, we libertarians can become so enamored by what we judge to be the elegance of our political theories that we ignore facts that don’t fit comfortably into those theories. (Of course, it’s not just libertarians; all humans are prone to seeing what they want to see.)For example, I have encountered more than a few purist, typically conservative-leaning, libertarians who blithely brush off the entire issue of global climate change. I’m not talking about examining the scientific evidence with skepticism, or questioning exaggerated doomsday scenarios. I’m talking about completely blowing off the entire topic. I’m not sure of all the motivations behind such out-of-hand dismissal, but I suspect down deep there is fear that some liberal somewhere may be right about something.In contrast, other libertarians haven’t ignored the climate change issue, and haven’t let those who see more government as the answer to all problems shape the entire debate. Emissions permit trading, a way of leveraging market cooperation to reduce pollution, is an idea that has been promoted by libertarian think tanks for years, and is now taking a place at the center of proposed greenhouse gas reduction efforts. Just one illustration of how practical, open-minded libertarians are much more interesting than purist libertarians.Another uncomfortable topic for libertarians is the gap between a very small group of super-wealthy Americans and the rest of the American population. This topic is so outré among libertarians that I had never heard how pronounced the problem was until a Socialist brought it up during a candidate form I participated in. It is a hard issue for libertarians to come to grips with, because we like to think that we live in a country that is on the receiving end of the blessings of capitalism.According to some estimates, the richest one percent own one third of the total wealth in the economy and the richest five percent own one half. If you’re not familiar with this disparity, this paper pulls together what is known about the issue without political spin:Marco Cagetti and Mariacristina De Nardi: Wealth inequality: data and models” (PDF 433 KB)Statistics about wealth disparity are the basis for a lot of leftist rhetoric damning capitalism. But, from the reading I have done so far on this topic, I have learned that it is more complicated than the socialists’ understanding. Economists don’t fully understand the phenomenon, which could stand a lot more academic study. For example, leftists would have a hard time explaining that the pattern of dramatically uneven wealth distribution has been observed in all countries that have been studied, even quite liberal countries such as Sweden.Here’s another case where libertarians shouldn’t be afraid to examine an issue that at first glance seems to play into the hands of our opponents. With our extremely sensitive radar for picking up on the dark side of government, we could help show, for example, how corporate welfare funnels money to the cronies of powerful politicians.If we value our theories more than observation of the real world, we libertarians betray the Enlightenment spirit that gave birth to our philosophy of freedom.There’s nothing to fear. Every time scientific orthodoxy has been challenged by facts that didn’t fit in, science ended up becoming more sophisticated. It usually turned out that prevailing scientific theories weren’t incorrect so much as incomplete. It’s the same with libertarian philosophy.Links referred to in the above article:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelson-Morley_experimenthttp://www.chicagofed.org/publications/workingpapers/wp2005_10.pdf
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Mike Laursen was the Libertarian candidate for California Senate District 13 in 2004, running on a moderate libertarian platform. He is now registered as an independent.
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